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12.06.07

More Tangled Webs:

The Dismissal of Paul Bodnar

• OCA Now Claims Bodnar Was Never

  OCA Secretary
• Bodnar To Receive Reported $60,000 Settlement

  To Leave Quietly
• Deacon Zarras Resigns As Transition Officer

The real question about the dismissal of OCA Secretary Paul Bodnar, first reported by OCANews.org last week, was would Syosset be accountable, transparent and honest about the fiasco - or would the culture of lies, deception and concealment again triumph? A press release on Tuesday made it clear that those responsible, once again, have chosen to deceive. One can only lament with Sir Walter Scott: "O what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive." The Bodnar case is one tangled web.

Deception

Tuesday's press release begins:  "The Chancery of the Orthodox Church in America regretfully announces that Mr. Paul Bodnar has been released from his pending appointment as Secretary of the Church." Pending appointment? The historical record evidences otherwise.

• On June 21, 2007 the OCA announced in a press release that :

"At their meeting at the Chancery here June 12-13, 2007, members of the Metropolitan Council of the Orthodox Church in America recommended the appointment of Mr. Paul Bodnar for the position of OCA secretary. Mr. Bodnar's name will be forwarded to the Holy Synod of Bishops for confirmation."

• On August 8, 2007 the OCA announced among the highlights of the Synod meeting held a week earlier that:

"4. CONFIRMATION OF NEW OCA SECRETARY. In response to the recommendation of the Metropolitan Council, the hierarchs confirmed Mr. Paul Bodnar as secretary of The Orthodox Church in America. Mr. Bodnar was introduced to the hierarchs."

That the 'confirmation' was effected is evidenced by an August 11, 2007 press release in which the OCA reported:

"On Tuesday, August 7, 2007, members of the Orthodox Church in America's reorganization task force met with the Church's newly appointed chancellor, the Very Rev. Alexander Garklavs; the director of ministries and communications, the Very Rev. Andrew Jarmus; and the secretary, Mr. Paul Bodnar. This was the first opportunity for the members of the task force and all three appointees to meet together in person to discuss several issues related to the transition of responsibilities to the new administrative team."

The Metropolitan and his spokesman, Fr. Jarmus, the new Communications Director, would now have us believe none of this happened; that none of the decisions taken concerning Paul Bodnar took place, that Mr. Bodnar was a 'pending appointee' but never 'appointed'. Unfortunately, not only could they not rewrite all the previous press releases, a la Orwell's 1984, but no one has even bothered to sanitze the OCA's own website, which as late as yesterday, still reported the following ex-officio members of the Metropolitan Council:

"Metropolitan Herman, Chairman
V. Rev. Alexander Garklavs, Chancellor
V. Rev. Paul Kucynda, Acting Treasurer
Paul Bodnar, Secretary"

Paul Bodnar was clearly the Secretary of the OCA, and had been working as such since the beginning of August 2007. So why attempt to deceive the OCA by stating otherwise? It appears it is not convenient to admit the truth because that would create legal liability due to an even earlier deception, a situation for which no one now wants to admit or bear responsibility. This all sounds familiar because it is the same old Syosset story...

The Earlier Deception

On June 19th 2007 the OCA announced at the meeting of the Metropolitan Council, held June 12-13, 2007 that:

"They (The Secretary Selection Team of Deacon John Zarras, Eleana Silk, and Carol Wetmore) have identified a highly qualified nominee for the position: Mr. Paul Bodnar. Mr. Bodnar has extensive experience in non-profit management activities and possesses in extraordinary quantity and quality the skills required of the position. His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman, has met with him, as have members of the Task Force and the Very Rev. Paul Kucynda. He has expressed intent to accept the position, if it is offered."

Amid the glowing recommendation to the Metropolitan Council no one on Deacon Zarras' Reorganization Task Force bothered to point out that Paul Bodnar, a Canadian citizen, had a visa to work in California - but not a visa to work in New York. When the question was raised by Council members, its relevance was downplayed.

It was being downplayed even as late as October, when according to an OCA press release:

"The Council heard a report on the immigration status of Paul Bodnar, recently named as OCA Secretary, whose visa extension application is delayed in routine INS processing."

The careful reader will note that once again Bodnar is called the "OCA Secretary", (not the 'pending' secretary) but that is not the problem. The problem is that the Council, and the entire OCA, were still being told that the visa issue was "routine".

The truth was something else. Questions were raised on the internet about Bodnar's actual immigration status. Other questions followed. Specifically, how was Bodnar being paid? That delay in what was claimed to be 'routine' INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) processing, meant, in fact, that the OCA could not legally pay Mr. Bodnar for the work that he had been doing since August 1st. A scheme was devised to circumvent the problem whereby Bodnar was not to be paid - but the equivalent of his salary would be "loaned" to him. Now, when the INS and Homeland Security checked, (which is standard procedure since 9/11) the OCA could say Bodnar was not being "paid" for working in New York without a valid visa. Then, to provide the final bit of cover, the Synod clumsily attempted to backtrack on its earlier decision by adopting the following resolution at its November meeting:

"HEARD:
The immigration problems, regarding obtaining a change in visa status by Paul Bodnar, were
reported to the Holy Synod by the Chancellor, Archpriest Alexander Garklavs.

DECIDED:

It was decided that, until the matter is clarified satisfactorily, the Archpriest Alexander Garklavs, in
addition to his other duties, is temporarily appointed Acting Secretary of The Orthodox Church in
America."

It was now all official. The Transition Officer, Deacon John Zarras, could honestly tell the INS that Bodnar was now not being paid for a job he never had. But the web of deceptions was about to get even more tangled.

Even More Deception

After the October Metropolitan Council and Synod meetings, Mr. Bodnar hurriedly emptied out his office at Syosset. He moved out, and was working in the following weeks off-site. It has been reported on the internet that employees at Syosset were told, should INS or Homeland Security ask, to reply: "Paul Bodnar never worked here."

Having undertaken all this effort to cover Bodnar's position, pay and physical presence, Syosset then announces on December 4, 2007 that:

"The Chancery of the Orthodox Church in America regretfully announces that Mr. Paul Bodnar has been released from his pending appointment as Secretary of the Church. With the prolonged wait for the transfer of his R-1 religious worker visa and the continued financial crisis in which the Church finds itself, it was decided that the Church could not wait indefinitely for Mr. Bodnar's immigration status to be resolved. This matter had been discussed for several weeks, including with Mr. Bodnar himself, before a final decision was made."

The announcement is deceptive. Bodnar was "released" only in the sense he was "let go". Neither the lack of a visa, or the continuing financial crisis of the OCA were the overriding causes - for as we have seen, the OCA had consistently downplayed the visa problems - and the financial crisis had been anticipated even before he was hired. Withholding by the Diocese of the MIdwest was adopted in November 2006, scheduled for January 2007, delayed in February, and only begun in August 2007. It was hardly precipitous, unexpected, or arbitrary. In that same time period, however, the OCA hired three new major employees, including Bodnar, not to mention a fourth (a new Treasurer) even after withholding had begun. (Read that story here) Visa problems and finances are just the most convenient excuses. According to sources in Syosset, Mr. Bodnar was 'released' because his conduct and ideas did not fit the structures envisioned by the Reorganization Task Force's plan; nor did he work well with the rest of the new team. It just didn't work out. It happens. But why couldn't Syosset just tell the truth? Why put out such obvious - and so easily refuted - disinformation? Metropolitan Herman's leadership has fostered a culture of administrative deception and a tradition of avoiding responsibility. Is the new 'administration' also incapable of telling the truth - or just following the bad example of their leader?

The Consequences

Disinformation is but part of the deception. The press release continues:

"Over the months that he has been associated with the Chancery, Mr. Bodnar has shown himself to be a dedicated member of the Church, with a sincere desire to work for its betterment and growth. The Church's Central Administration offers him its prayerful support in his future endeavors."

The OCA has offered Bodnar not only "prayerful support". OCANews.org has learned that Mr. Bodnar, after four months of work, was paid a settlement of around $60,000 for accepting his 'release' by signing one - that is, by signing an agreement to depart without legal action. The OCA conveniently failed to announce this aspect of Bodnar's 'release' because to do so would be to admit that one of the reasons given - the financial crisis of the OCA - was not acute enough to not pay someone to leave a job they didn't have. There seems to always be enough money in Syosset to buy a way out of a jam; but precious little for anything else. Like, say, missions?

Just this week OCANews.org received the following note from a concerned parishioner in an OCA mission:

"You may find it interesting that the OCA Mission Planting Grants have been cut in half. There are normally five given. Only 2 were given for 2008, those being extensions of grants already in place. Two other existing grants were eliminated, and no new grants given for 2008."

A press release from the OCA on this issue is expected shortly.

The bottom line: For those who think the ongoing scandal in Syosset is without effect on their lives, their parish, their diocese, or the future of Orthodoxy on this continent - think again. We are continuing to mortgage our future by failing to resolve openly and honestly the scandals of the past and present.

Zarras Resigns

There has been other fallout from this fiasco. OCANews.org has learned that on Wednesday, December 5th, Deacon John Zarras, the Transition Officer whose Reorganization Task Force has been overseeing personnel decisions in Syosset since it was appointed by Metropolitan Herman last year, has resigned and cleared his desk at Syosset. The Deacon gave as his reason that "there is no longer a need for a Transition Officer." (This, despite the fact that the OCA is still lacking one of its four major officers as envisioned by the Reorganization plan, and the fact that the plan is in strategic disarray, given the continuing absence of the Metropolitan from Syosset and its day to day operations. How are the four equal officers to report to a Metropolitan who insists on living in South Canaan, rather than in his diocese?) Deacon Zarras remains a member of the Reorganization Task Force.

- Mark Stokoe

 

 
 

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